These days, becoming “Facebook official”—declaring the status of your relationship publicly on your social media profile—is an established phase in the relationship life cycle. It occurs sometime after the first date and but before moving in together or getting engaged. And according to new research, declaring oneself as “taken” and by whom on social media is a pretty important step in a relationship.
According to a study in Computers and Human Behavior, people who posted their relationship status on Facebook were more likely to feel more committed and invested in the relationship than their peers who didn’t declare their status.
The researchers interviewed 170 undergraduate college students to get their data, so their findings may not have much bearing on relationships in older people. However, the authors pointed out that declaring one’s relationship status in such a public manner likely means that both partners have taken into account how that affects how others perceive their level of commitment.
Researchers also measured factors like how much time each person spent on Facebook in general and how they rated their prospects for dating outside of their current relationship. They found that people who used Facebook more were more likely to post their relationship status. They also found that those who posted their status also perceived fewer outside prospects in their life.
This study contrasts with another that found people who post about their relationship more are more insecure in their commitments. The two studies are not necessarily at odds, however. Just because someone is insecure about his relationship doesn’t mean the is not committed to it. Other studies have also found that couples who “Facebook together” last longer and report better relationship quality than those who don’t post their relationship status, photos, or mention their significant other on Facebook.
It’s worth noting that most of these studies are carried out with undergraduates in monogamous, heterosexual relationships. Due to their age and their social environment, they may be more inclined to use Facebook to clearly define and delineate their relationships. So it’s not clear how much bearing these findings have on adult relationships and marriages as well as homosexual and nonmonogamous relationships.
Interestingly, public declarations of “going steady” aren’t that new—at least for college students. The researchers of the latest study mentioned an old practice popular in the 1950s where students would “pin” an ad up in the campus newspaper declaring their relationship with their partner.
“Such ‘pinning’ denoted the magnitude and seriousness of the relationship,” the researchers wrote. In modern times, crossing the threshold of “Facebook official” status is symbolic of the relationship crossing another, more abstract threshold of commitment and loyalty.
Illustration by Jason Reed